The Chicago-headquartered company focuses on research and development of sorghum varieties through conventional breeding for feed use, grain production, forage growth and the energy industry said Daphne Preuss, company CEO.
“Grain sorghum is not only for food, but also for feed and it is also to some small intent used for fuels as well,” she told us. “We also sell a lot of forage sorghum, and that green material is used as hay or silage and used as a pasture crop, so we’re providing all types.”
The company has worked with Zaad for some time but wanted to make it a more formalized alliance, she said. The effort is part of an ongoing objective to think globally in terms of the sorghum market.
“Some markets can be challenging to enter and Africa is [one],” she said. “We wanted to partner to do something effective in Africa, and we’re excited out this opportunity because there is a tremendous need for high quality seed there.”
Research and distribution
The partnership to bring new seeds to markets across Africa has already started, said Preuss. Working with Zaad, the company will have access to established networks into areas including northern, central and southern Africa.
“[This] gives us access to established sales and distribution networks through brands that are known in those regions and seed production, coating, warehousing and logistics capabilities,” she said. “That will allow us to make the seed locally, which is going to help a great deal for availability and competitive pricing.”
One element of the production is offering the seeds at an affordable price, she said. The company also has worked with regional farmers to demonstrate production and potential yield increases.
“It’s not uncommon [to have] 1/10 or worse than what a US farmer would see [in yield],” said Preuss. “The quality of seed they have access to is very poor.”
Farmers in some regions also save seed from year to year, which may introduce inconsistent plant genetics and the seeds may not be maintained in proper storage conditions, she said.
Chromatin has been doing research in Africa to be able to test products and get them inspected and registered with country governments for use, she said. “We’ve got a lot of products that we know fit and give high yields,” she added.
The research and development work has centered on matching seed type to local conditions, she said. “It’s not more challenging than what you would see bringing new products into a market,” she added.
Seeds have to be selected to meet local soil conditions, weather conditions and the appropriate pace of maturation, said Preuss. They also have to address pest challenges and fungal pathogens while growing well and offering high yields.
“It’s about matching environment with the right variety,” she said. “Whether we’re growing sorghum in China, or South America or the western US, we’re familiar with the challenges of drought and managing the extremes of weather as well as soil conditions.”
Previously Africa is an area that has not received much attention in terms of new or high quality sorghum seed, she said.
However, the continent also offers the largest land area that is currently planted with sorghum growing about 90m acres as the crop can help with food security, said Preuss.
“Because they often have extremes of drought, this is a crop that helps mitigate risk,” she said. “They’re very likely to get a crop out of sorghum where other crops may fail.”